Gateway College Florida Science Olympiad Food Poisoning
On February 4, 2017, thirty people, primarily minor students, were reported to be sick with symptoms of foodborne illness following a middle school science competition in Lake City, Florida. The authorities are currently linking the foodborne illness outbreak to a catered lunch held at the Florida Science Olympiad held at the Florida Gateway College. The symptoms are so severe that local officials initially believed that hazardous materials from the science competition. After initial investigations, hazardous materials have been rejected as the possible source of the mystery illness.
Who is Sick?
Early reports indicate that twenty-eight grade-school students and two adults are confirmed to be ill following a catered lunch held at the Florida Science Olympiad – a grade school science competition and fair. The Columbia County Sheriff's Office assisted the Columbia County Fire Rescue and Emergency Management agencies with the transport of those who have fallen ill to various nearby hospitals. The Columbia County Sheriff's Office reported that so many have become ill in such a short time that the victims were transported to several different local hospitals. The agency has reported that the victims became ill within hours of eating food from the catered lunch. The lunch purportedly consisted of pulled pork sandwiches. The Florida Department of Health has independently reported that the caterer for the event is currently unknown.
Those who are ill are showing signs and symptoms of foodborne illness, including severe vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office. Other potential symptoms or treatment of these symptoms has not yet been made public.
Concerned parents have taken the initiative to go online to social media outlets, like Twitter, to warn other parents of the outbreak and request prayers. One concerned mother noted:
“Our local Lake City friends and family, please keep kids from the science competition in your prayers a ton were transported to hospitals, possible food poisoning. My son included. We need prayers. Multiple ambulances full of kids getting sick.
A mother was also interviewed by the media and commented that she was concerned for her 13 year-old son, who was among those hospitalized following the science competition. She told media:
“I was scared. They took his blood pressure and vitals and his blood pressure spiked. He said his hands were tingly. So, at that point, worried mom, I lost it.” The mother commented that she is still very worried for her son, as she does not know if there are any long-term or lasting effects that may be in her son’s future.
The mother interviewed attended the event, but avoided the catered food at the lunch. She said that she “took two bites of it, and something was not right.” She chose not to eat the meal.
The annual Florida Science Olympiad is a competition and science fair for grade school students. This year, the event was held at the Florida Gateway College gymnasium. The affair is a regional and state one, where children from multiple school districts come together to compete in 23 different areas of competition. These include various areas of science, such as physics, chemistry, earth science, and biology with interactive, hands-on activities. Some activities are lab-based and research-based according to the event’s website.
What is Being Done?
Various local Lake City agencies have banded together to investigate this mystery. Several state and governmental agencies, including the Florida Department of Health, Columbia County Fire Rescue, Columbia County Sheriff's Office, and Emergency Management, are investigating the incident. Quick response to the mystery illness and early investigations were paramount in ruling out hazardous materials as a potential cause of the illnesses.
Florida Department of Health did confirm that all of the signs and symptoms from the victims “point to foodborne illness.” They have taken samples of multiple foods present during the lunch and at other places at the event. The agency told media that they will be testing the foods for dangerous and unsafe pathogens. The agency also intends to interview those affected by the mysterious illness to find out more details and hopefully, a source of the potential contamination. The local media outlets have reported that the Florida Health Department intends to interview the victims within the next few days, and potentially, have a resolution in the upcoming week.
When interviewed by the media, Mark Lander, Spokesman for the Florida Department of Health, commented:
“Typical foodborne illness, what we see, is that onset is about four to seven hours after about seven hours with the majority of foodborne illnesses that we work with.”
The Florida Health Department offers encouragement to families and commented that those afflicted should recover quickly.
The agencies involved in the outbreak investigation are doing anything they can to get the news out to the local community, especially parents who, at the time, may not have been aware of their children’s illnesses. The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, in particular, took to social media and tweeted today:
[email protected] is assisting CCFR with an incident at Florida Gateway College where some students attending a middle school science fair have become ill. It is believed this is food related. This incident is being investigated with CCFR and Emergency Management being the lead agencies.”
They were not alone. The Columbia County Fire Rescue Community Education & Fire Prevention also used Twitter to make the announcement of their involvement in the incident:
“CCFR is currently working a multi agency scene at Florida Gateway College. Multiple patients are reported to be vomiting and have diarrhea from an unknown source. The initial thought was a possible hazardous material but that has been eliminated. The only common denominator is the catered lunch provided to the participants of the Science Olympiad. The event was being held in the FGC gym. Please check back for more updates. #CCFR”
What Can You Do?
If you or someone you love attended the Florida Science Olympiad held at the Florida Gateway College and have become ill, urgent medical attention is recommended. It is encouraged to report any illnesses or related issues from this event to the Florida Department of Health.